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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman

 

Prince Philip and a Family Connection to Yad Vashem

 

Recently, Sarrae and I began watching on Netflix season 3 of “The Crown.” We are up to episode 4 which focuses on Princess Alice, who was Prince Philip’s mother. And it is indeed appropriate to be discussing her as today, December 5th, is the 50th anniversary of her death.

 

Princess Alice was one of Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughters (which means that Philip and Elizabeth are distant cousins) and was raised in England, but in time became a Greek princess, married to Prince Andrew who also was a prince of Denmark. Born deaf, she did learn to read lips and was able to speak several languages, including German. Her 4 daughters married German princes. In 1937, her daughter Cecile perished in an automobile accident along with her husband and two of their children. The remaining 3 sisters stayed in Germany during World War II and their husbands served in the German army, and one of them, Prince Christoph of Hesse, was a member of the SS! Meanwhile, her son served in the British navy.

 

Princess Alice remained in Athens during the war and after the German occupation of Greece in the fall of 1943, she sheltered the widow of a Greek parliamentarian and two of her children—the others had fled to Egypt, joining the Greek government in exile. Her deafness came in handy when interrogated by suspicious officials and she could claim not to understand the questions. What makes this story ever more remarkable is that it was unknown for decades. It remained unknown until 1992, when Michael Cohen informed Yad Vashem that he, his sister, and mother had been hidden and taken care of by Princess Alice. It was a story hidden from the British royal family.

 

As Prince Philip observed in his remarks at the 1994 ceremony honoring his mother:

 

We did not know, and as far as we know, she never mentioned to anyone, that she had given refuge to the Cohen family at a time when all Jews in Athens were in great danger of being arrested and transported to the concentration camps. In retrospect this reticence may seem strange, but I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She would have considered it to be perfectly natural human reaction to fellow beings in distress.

 

Princess Alice, who had converted to Geek Orthodoxy, became a nun, founding an order of Greek Orthodox nursing nuns. She died in England in exile in 1969, there having been a coup in 1967. Initially buried in a crypt in the chapel at Windsor Castle, her remains were finally in 1988 removed and re-interred, as she had wished, at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, near her aunt Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, a Russian Orthodox saint.

 

I look forward to this next episode, even if it fails to include her heroic deed.

 

Shabbat shalom.

 

 

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Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel

 

Improving Upon Nature and Saving the Planet

 

How to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere? Plants naturally absorb Carbon Dioxide. Is there a way that this process can be improved?

 

Professor Ron Milo and his team have created carbon dioxide eating E. Coli bacteria. According to Professor Milo, ““Our lab was the first to pursue the idea of changing the diet of a normal heterotroph (one that eats organic substances) to convert it to autotrophism (‘living on air’).” It was an involved process. It required inserting a gene that allows bacteria to get energy from formate, a readily available substance that can be produced directly from air and electricity. Then the bacteria had to be further modified to switch from sugars to carbon dioxide. Postdoctoral fellow Shmuel Gleizer, who was the lead researcher, did this with a technique called lab evolution; gradually weaning the bacteria off the sugar they were used to eating. Each succeeding generation was given less and less sugar. After about a year of adapting to the new diet, some of the bacteria did switch to living and multiplying in an environment of pure CO2.

 

According to Yinon Bar-On, a member of the team, there are “several scenarios in which this current research could be applied in the future to address climate change.”  The process the team has developed, could open the way to producing net-zero emissions ethanol, butanol and other denser fuels, replacing fossil fuels. Further, the research could serve as the basis for increasing food production without further deforestation. The carbon dioxide bacteria could be useful in producing alternative protein. “In the future, “claimed Bar-On, “we may be able to use renewable energy to drive carbon fixation and protein production in such bacteria.”

 

 

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Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion

 

The portion of Vah’yeahtsay (Genesis 28:10-30:13) is read this Saturday, December 7th.

 

29:25 When morning came, there was Leah! So he [Jacob] said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?” (26) Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the older. (27) Wait until the bridal week of this one is over and we will give that you that one too, provided you serve me another seven years.” (28) Jacob did so; he waited out the bridal week of the one, and then he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife.—(29) Laban had his maidservant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maid.—(30 ) And Jacob cohabited with Rachel also; indeed, he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served him another seven years.

 

29:30 He loved Rachel more than Leah [He loved also Rachel more than Leah]. The Gaon [the great sage] Rabbi Chayim Sinvanee of blessed saintly memory, discussed the language of this verse and raised the following difficulties: 1. The words “also,”, “and Rachel” and “more than Leah” seem superfluous, the text could’ve said, “he also loved her.” 2. The word “and also” and “Et” [a Hebrew conjunction for which there is no translation] are inclusive, and what do they add here? 3. From the language it would appear that Leah was the reason for his love of Rachel, and we need to understand what additional love Jacob had for Rachel because of Leah.

And the Gaon Rabbi Chayim offered a wonderful explanation of these problems. It is known from the verse that his love of Rachel filled the heart of, peace be upon him, of our father Jacob, from the time that he came to Laban, and his work with the sheep was for the sake of Rachel and that the marriage with Leah was an act of deceit. It is explained in midrashim that when Jacob came to Leah that all night he called her Rachel, and she answered him, and afterwards in the morning Jacob asked her: “Deceiver, the daughter of deceiver, I called you Rachel, and how is it that you answered me?” And Leah answered him, “I learned from you. Your father called you Jacob [sic! It should read “Esau”—see Genesis 27:24] and you answered him.” Immediately he hated her, because of these words of her to him.

 

It would appear after this incident that Jacob loved Rachel for 2 reasons: 1. Because of his natural love [for her], as his soul was bound up with her soul. 2. Because of his Leah’s accusing words, for he saw the difference between the two sisters, while Rachel adopted silence as her duty [literally her staff of silence], and further she gave the signs [to Leah, the secret signs that Jacob and Rachel had devised in case Laban pulled a fast one], whereas Leah criticized him with her words.

 

And hence the text says “And he also loved Rachel more than Leah”, that this time his love was renewed beyond what it had been originally, and this is the meaning “and also”, what it adds [to the text], for Jacob by nature loved Rachel, but now there was an additional reason beyond the first that is “more than Leah”, because of Leah having  verbally criticized him, for then he saw further the differences between Rachel and Leah and his love of her [Rachel] grew ever further. (Mekom Mikdash cited in Rabbi Yosef ben David Tsabari, Shulchan Melachim: Bereshit. A tip of my kippah to my colleague Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb who provided me with a link to the web page in the Hebrew version of Wikipedia with Rabbi Sinvanee’s biography. The rabbi was born on the evening of Yom Kippur in 1897 in the town of Sanoan [spelling?], near Taiz [southwestern Yemen]. He was ordained at the age of 17 by Rabbi Shlomo ben Yosef Taviv and studied Kabbalah with him. He married at the age of 18. Not long afterwards he was offered a position as a rabbinic judge but refused the position. But in 1921, after the death of his rabbinic teachers, he accepted the rabbinic position in Sanoan and its vicinity. Unable to visit the nearby communities because of an injury, he moved to Aden, where he served on the Beit Din [the rabbinic court], where he underwent an operation. In 1946, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency set up a camp near Aden and Rabbi Sinvanee moved there and served as the representative of the Jews of the area, but problems with the head of the camp lead to his incarceration by the British. He made Aliyah in 1949, where rather than served as a communal rabbi, he taught and was “wonder worker.” His descendants claimed that he was a Zionist and celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, {Israel Independence Day] including reciting Hallel [extra psalms recited on festive days], and honored Rabbi Kook [1st Ashkenazi chief rabbi] and Rabbi Goren [chief rabbi in the 70’s]. It is said after the Yom Kippur War, he requested the names of all the soldiers who perished and prayed for them. However, according to another source, he forbade participations in Israeli elections, and posters with this ban appeared even after his death in 1979. His grandson has published from manuscript several of the rabbi’s works: Mekom Mikdash, [The Place of the Sanctuary] his commentary on the Torah, Ateret Tiferet [The Crown of Splendor], Atarot Chayim [Entreaties of Life], Arzay Levanon [Cedars of Lebanon], Torat Chacham [The Torah of the Sage] and Zohar HaRakeah [The Light of the Sky], his essays on the Zohar. Another 13 works remain unpublished. All of his writings were completed while still in Yemen. In earlier years, he also wrote poetry.)

Mon, December 9 2019 11 Kislev 5780